Tag Archives: exhibitions.

“Picasso and Chicago”: The Show Is Over But Its Best Parts Are Still On Display. (It’s Called The Art Institute of Chicago’s Permanent Collection).

Featured Image: Minotaur and Wounded Horse, April 17, 1935; detail; pen and brush and black inks, graphite, and colored crayons, with smudging, over incising, on cream laid paper; signed recto, lower right, in graphite: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper right, in graphite: “Boisgeloup–17 Avril XXXV; The Art Institute of Chicago.

By John P. Walsh

How Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and the centenary of the landmark 1913 Armory Show are linked for Picasso and Chicago is tenuous. Bragging rights on Picasso by others have always come to the Catalan artist from the beginning. Media talk in 2013 revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso. Which institution collected Picasso first? – The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923. Which institution collected Picasso most? – the Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930. Which institution first mounted a Picasso retrospective? – The Wadsworth Atheneum in 1934. If attention is what Pablo craves, there are no worries.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper, Gray Collection trust.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper, Gray Collection trust.

There are several good things about Picasso and Chicago although it doesn’t always revolve around his art. It is satisfying to know that Chicago possesses the resources to showcase a chronological and comprehensive Picasso show within its own collections. In these tight economic times there is kudos owed to a major museum that recognizes its and others’ extant holdings. This chronological exhibition of Chicago’s Picasso collection—and it includes works from The Art Institute, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society—is front loaded providing immediate pleasures. To be greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903/04—a revered painting in the Art Institute—and to be edified by its blue presence is worth the exhibition’s price of admission although there was no special exhibition fee.

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The Old Guitarist, late 1903–early 1904, oil on panel, 48 3/8 x 32 1/2 in. 
signed, l.r.: “Picasso.” The Art Institute of Chicago.

Does this front-loaded show spell superficiality and the lack of depth? The answer is: yes and no. For any next Picasso show curators in Chicago should find no problem whittling away a lot of what is shown for Picasso and Chicago. Yet it is precisely this downsizing opportunity that points to the show’s possible shortcoming.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Beggar with Crutch,” Barcelona 1904, pen, brown ink and colored crayon on paper, detail, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973),

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Crazy Woman with Cats,” detail, early summer 1901, Paris, oil on cardboard, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper, Gray Collection trust.

When Chicago in the 1920s began a Picasso buying frenzy another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983) and his criticism of Picasso (more a kind of disgust)—and also of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)—was that the pair were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, they were making art primarily for a paycheck. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him correct—that the future of contemporary painting did not rest with Picasso after about 1920. This is partly why Miró turned to the “nonsense” of the Dadaists for the future of his modern art. Keeping Miro’s judgment in mind during a visit to Picasso and Chicago one realizes rather quickly that with notable exceptions an earlier Picasso painting—that is, on the chronological spectrum of the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers intrinsically cohesive artwork that contains the germ or seed of progress.  The art collection in Picasso and Chicago mostly bears out Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso. The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never really boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which cleanse and satisfy a critical eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso might connote a stroll in Paris or having a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along the Mediterranean coast. One could have this vicarious experience even when strolling merely The Art Institute’s Regenstein Hall to soak up some of Picasso’s later and mostly lesser-vintage work. There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—and this includes paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics— which only begin to manifest Pablo Picasso’s profligate artistic genius. Picasso and Chicago may be closed now, but each of these works lurk in Chicago’s domain to be savored and treasured one at a time as they are made available for display. A visitor may do no better than to make their beeline to The Art Institute of Chicago to see The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair and begin one’s own absorption and critique of his work.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973), “Nude with a Pitcher,” detail, Summer 1906, Gosol, Spain, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973),

Detail of “The Red Armchair,” December 16, 1931; oil and ripolin on panel; signed, u.r.: “Picasso”; The Art Institute of Chicago.

Nessus and Deianira, Juan-les-Pins, September 22, 1920, Graphite on papere with white ground

“Nessus and Deianira,” September 22, 1920, Graphite on tan wove paper, prepared with a white ground ,signed recto, upper left, in pen and blue ink: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper left, in graphite: “22-9-20”

Picasso and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, February 20 – May 12, 2013.

SOURCES:

Miró, Janis Mink, Taschen, 2006;

Je suis Le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso, 1986, Arnoldo  Mondadori Editore, Verona, Italy;

http://michiganavemag.com/living/articles/aic-opens-picasso-and-chicago;

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780300184525http://chicagoist.com/2013/05/11/last_chance_to_see_picasso_and_chic.php.

All photographs (except “The Old Guitarist”) by John P. Walsh (May 7, 2013).

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Eluding “Terrible Monsieur Degas”: Gustave Caillebotte’s Retro-Style Vision for the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition of 1882.

By John P. Walsh

The Third Impressionist Exhibition in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886. While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s initial euphoria was short lived.  Just two weeks after the show closed, when hopes for picture sales continued to be high, a Constitutional crisis in the French government led to consolidation of Republican power against Royalists and a national economic recession ensued. The Impressionist group, carefully built to a unity by Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as each artist jostled for survival in a receding financial tide.

Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied. The next exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas would exclude Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley and, in 1880, Claude Monet. For Caillebotte whose brand for the 1877 exhibition was based on  “broken brush” impressionists the irony was not lost on him as he worked on the next impressionist shows with Degas and an artistic coterie that excluded them. By 1881 Caillebotte had had enough of the artistic partisanship and before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in that year he departed the Degas-led organization.

Caillebotte’s retirement was a short one. Soon the 32-year-old Caillebotte was promoting a retro-style vision for an exhibition in 1882. He promoted his vision tirelessly to his obvious partner, Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). But the previous seven years had taken a financial toll on the 51-year-old art dealer who re-tooled his business plan to focus on small shows of individual artists. The French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money, although by 1882 there was sufficient expectation to make a small profit from this one. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—and Durand-Ruel believed it was a sour attempt to discredit him as an avant-garde art dealer—the over-stocked Impressionist art dealer proved reluctant but finally willing to go forward with Caillebotte’s “old school” exhibition plan.

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P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The main hook was to re-integrate the up-to-now excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent his new, large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival) and 23 other new works. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt and Paul Gauguin stayed away from this seventh Impressionist show. Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, this show hailed the triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. The artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, was off experimenting and would not be seen in another Paris art show until 1895.

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Caillebotte, Rising Road (Chemin Montant). 1881.

Caillebotte sent 17 works to his show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. Is it a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics when they saw it in his The Floor Scrapers of 1875? Rising Road is painted in the loose brushwork idiom with the free handling of colors as practiced by Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte was making. The mystery deepens as to who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” as one critic poked fun at them. Both couple and their location are unknown. It is conjectured that the viewer is looking at Caillebotte with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier. Rising Road (Chemin Montant) which has had only two owners since 1881 sold for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) in a 2003 sale at Christie’s in New York City,

SOURCES: Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4181485

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

A Bridge Too Far: Gustave Caillebotte and the Impressionist Exhibitions of 1879, 1880, and 1881.

Featured Image: The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue), 1880, private collection.

By John P. Walsh

By the time Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) painted The Bezique Game in 1880 and the four-by-five-foot oil on canvas was exhibited in the penultimate Seventh Impressionist exhibition in 1882, many changes in the art world had transpired in those five years since his “balanced and coherent” Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877. Two major developments proved especially impactful for the select band of ever-varying avant-garde and independent artists calling themselves “impressionists.” The first major development is that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.

Caillebotte attempted a follow-up impressionist exhibition for 1878 and utterly failed to get it off the ground. It wasn’t for lack of trying. He and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) jump-started and organized the third exhibition in 1877 proving the benefits of professional arts organization and marketing. By the next year Caillebotte moved from the measurable success of eighteen cogent modern movement artists under a brand name, 230 works, and attendance numbers bursting the attendance of previous shows by almost four foldsales were up as wellto a complete lack of collective coherence and cooperation.

Seeds of destruction for the cozy klatch of budding avant-garde artists had sprouted in the 1877 show. Caillebotte’s genius for that show was one of avoidance. He adeptly avoided a train wreck of antagonistic and divergent creative forces by keeping them literally physically apart.  Of the two major factions one was the classically-trained realist urban figure drawing of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and the innovative nonacademic broken brush landscapes of Claude Monet (1840-1926). Caillebotte assented to their separateness by hanging all 25 beach and ballet works by Degas in their own room for the show’s duration.

220px-Edgar_Degas_(1834-1917) EDGAR DEGAS (1834 – 1917).

cm_1860CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926).

7601_m_gustave_caillebotte___french_artist CAILLEBOTTE (1848-1894).

Rule number one in business: don’t argue with success. That is unless you are “the terrible Monsieur Degas.” Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s show’s success was not entirely Degas’s fault – his disputatious character, however, was.  The catalyst for the ensuing political battle between Degas and Monet which affected the rest of the impressionist shows after 1877 was their varying understanding of the second major development to affect all modern artists. By 1878 the trend to a liberal Salon, despite monarchical, religious and aristocratic reactionaries in leadership after 1863, had become inescapable. While the government would divest itself of the Salon completely in 1881, it had allowed in 1878 its brittle conservative dam to break. Suddenly it became a propitious moment for “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to return to the government-run “Exhibition of Living Artists.”

A Corner of the Salon in 1880, Édouard Joseph Dantan (French, 1848 – 1897), 1880, private collection.

Whatever its drawbacks, the Salon remained the biggest show in Paris. While the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 attracted 15,000 visitors in its month-long run—an exciting 500 visitors per day—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day. Although the Salon displayed around twenty-three times more stock than an Impressionist show it attracted fifty times more visitors. Opportunity for client building and sales potential at one of these annual warehouse events was immense and until 1878 the Impressionists had been regularly kept away by the Salon’s small and shrinking institutional elite.

Degas came up with his own ingeniously small-minded idea. It struck to the heart of his reactionary mentality which he manifested on many important issues during his lifetime. In this instance, his limiting idea was craftily couched in nobility. Despite a new opening into the Salon for modern artists, Degas insisted that the Impressionists had to choose between the Salon or the Impressionist group. He was forcing artists like Renoir and Monet (as well as Cézanne and Sisley) to break ranks with the Impressionists only to best survive in a changing marketplace. Degas’s gauntlet was a perfectly-crafted wedge that, for the moment, prevailed.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919).

Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903).

Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903).

Alfred Sisley (British, born France, 1839-1899).

Alfred Sisley (British, born France, 1839-1899).

This situation doomed the next three Impressionist shows to one-sided affairs. The exhibitions of 1879, 1880, and 1881 featured Degas and his favorite artists including Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903). Édouard Manet (1832-1883), of course, was not directly affected by this ongoing intramural contest since he continued to exhibit only in the Salon. Of the Impressionists’ founding members in 1874 only Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) stayed loyal to the independent art group. Caillebotte too—who from almost the beginning delivered his talent and resources to the independents—continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. But Caillebotte stayed home for the 1881 show after breaking with Degas on ostensibly an advertising issue. By that time, a new set of opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions was brewing and Caillebotte painted The Bezique Game in this shifting political environment.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 –1926) in later years.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 –1926) in later years.

Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883).

Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883).

Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895) in 1875.

Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895) in 1875.

Bezique is a curiously French 64-card game for two players. Two singles players sit across the net to compete to 1000 points. The rest are score keepers or observers. As the game carries on, card “tricks” pile up on the table. Viewing this contemporary subject of a popular game depicted by Caillebotte, some critics called the painting a “legible and tightly ordered” image of a long-held pictorial tradition of card playing. Idiomatic clichés of card playing such as “playing one’s cards right” or “holding one’s cards close to the chest” may be read into this painting by Caillebotte as it pertains to the Impressionists’ recent exhibition experiences. Nineteenth-century art critics usually grouped Caillebotte with Degas as an artist and not among the “strict impressionists” of Monet and Renoir. Several critics wondered aloud in newspaper print why Caillebotte even had any dealings with those daubers.

Sources: Charles Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; Ross King, The Judgment of Paris: The Decade that Gave Us Impressionism, 2006; John Milner, The Studios of Paris, 1990; Alfred Werner, Degas Pastels, 1998.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Gustave Caillebotte and the Second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876.

Featured Image: Gustave Caillebotte, Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40.2 × 57.7 in.). It was bestowed by Caillebotte at his death in 1894 to the Musée du Luxembourg and, in 1929, transferred to the Musée du Louvre. In 1947 it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume and, in 1986, brought to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

By John P. Walsh

The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Paris in 1874. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) who had in 1875 divided a more than two million franc inheritance with his priest-brother Alfred and sibling Martial was not of the Impressionists’ rank for that watershed show.

Henri Rouart (1833-1912) was of the same high social circle as his neighbor Caillebotte and one of the two signatures on the formal invitation to Caillebotte inviting him to exhibit in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. The other signatory was Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Caillebotte accepted and sent eight paintings including his famous The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet) that today hangs in the Museé D’Orsay.

The Impressionists were not purists to their collective cause and to varying degrees many of them if reluctantly exhibited in the Government’s annual exhibition known as the Salon. Despite its attempts at modernism, the Salon remained a conservative venue and while The Floor Scrapers of 1875 was exhibited in the Impressionist show in 1876 it had been rejected by the Salon in the previous year. In addition to its subject matter and artificially enhanced perspective, The Floor Scrapers was called “vulgar” and “leftist” by critics because the painting commutes the nude—a traditional academic subject—into the Impressionist specialty of a modern life subject.

The floor scrapers in the painting are not removing old wax as might be first suspected. Their efforts show them working in a new building where they are preparing the wood by inducing its buckling with water and scraping it smooth.

Source: Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.